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Steelers

Jaylen Samuels could be Swiss Army knife for Steelers

Joe Rutter
| Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 4:23 p.m.
North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels makes a long touchdown run against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter of the game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
Keith Srakocic/AP
North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels makes a long touchdown run against Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter of the game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Pittsburgh.
North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Indianapolis.
Darron Cummings/AP
North Carolina State tight end Jaylen Samuels runs a drill at the NFL football scouting combine, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Indianapolis.
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels stiff-arms Pitt's Saleem Brightwell during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels stiff-arms Pitt's Saleem Brightwell during the first quarter Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels scores past Pitt's Rashad Weaver during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
N.C. State's Jaylen Samuels scores past Pitt's Rashad Weaver during the fourth quarter Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, at Heinz Field.

The measurables are comparable to a player already occupying the Steelers backfield.

At 6-foot, 225 pounds, Jaylen Samuels is 1 inch shorter and the same weight as Le'Veon Bell.

N.C. State assistant coach Eddie Faulkner saw the resemblance long before the Steelers used a fifth-round draft pick last month on Samuels.

“He's very similar to a Le'Veon, to be honest with you,” Faulkner said. “He's a really good receiver. He can run the ball. He does a lot of things well.”

The Steelers drafted Samuels with the idea of switching him from H-back/tight end and using him — at least initially — to complement their All-Pro running back. Faulkner, who spent the 2001 training camp with the Steelers and considers them his favorite pro team, endorses the switch — with one caveat.

“Asking him to do just one thing pigeon holes and limits him in what he can do,” Faulkner said. “He's honest-to-goodness the type of guy you have to be creative with and find a way to get him touches.”

That could be problematic, what with the Steelers using a $14.5 million franchise tag to keep Bell, one of the NFL's workhorse runners, away from free agency for a second consecutive season.

Coach Mike Tomlin will get his first look at Samuels this weekend at the Steelers rookie minicamp. After the draft, Tomlin wasn't ready to commit to a role for Samuels.

“I think that's to be determined, and I don't say that in a negative sense,” Tomlin said. “Boy, he was a versatile guy for them.”

Faulkner oversees tight ends and fullbacks while also coaching special teams at N.C. State. Samuels was in all of his position rooms during the past four seasons, although Faulkner also had to share Samuels with the receivers coach, running backs coach and even the quarterbacks coach.

“He played every position out there but on the line,” Faulkner said. “It probably would be easier to list what he didn't play than what he did.”

Samuels finished his tenure as N.C. State's all-time receptions leader and was the only active player in the nation with at least 15 career rushing and receiving touchdowns. Nobody else has accomplished that feat since 2004. Still, those stats only scratch the surface of what he contributed to the Wolfpack offense.

Samuels lined up as a true blocking tight end as well as H-back. He played in the slot and split out wide as a receiver. He lined up in the backfield in goal-line situations and as a quarterback in the wildcat.

“He even threw a touchdown pass for us,” Faulkner said.

That was in 2016 when, as a junior, Samuels threw a 59-yard score against rival North Carolina. In 2017, he had a 25-yard completion against Florida State.

“We joke around the office when we compare guys on our board to other guys on the roster,” Faulkner said. “We always say we can't compare anybody to Jaylen Samuels because he's really his own animal. He's unique.”

How many other college players, after all, were named to the Biletnikoff Award watch list for nation's top receiver, then were semifinalists for the Mackey Award given to the top tight end? And also were considered for the Hornung Award given to the sport's most versatile player?

“And now he's going into the NFL as a running back,” Faulkner said. “That speaks volumes for who he is as a football player.”

Despite having a single-game high of just 12 carries, Samuels was used as a running back at the Senior Bowl, where he caught the eye of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

“He really got to concentrate on working as a runner,” Colbert said. “He did a nice job in the Senior Bowl practices and in the game, so his versatility was very attractive at that point.”

At the NFL Combine, Samuels was listed as a tight end. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds — the ninth-fastest time among running backs and tied for the fastest time by a tight end. It's the identical time to what the Steelers' second-round pick, wide receiver James Washington, ran in Indianapolis, and it was .06 seconds faster than the time Bell registered at the 2013 combine.

Although Samuels shares Bell's speed and is a multi-dimensional asset, the comparisons end there. Samuels doesn't have the patient approach Bell has trademarked over his five NFL seasons.

Faulkner said Samuels is a punishing runner with a strong stiff-arm that helps him reach the second level of defenses.

“Seldom do you see the first guy make a tackle on Jaylen, but he's not rigid or shaking and baking and trying to make guys miss,” Faulkner said. “He can start slow, then put his foot on the ground and use his stiff-arm to make people miss.

“What he does translates well to that league, and I think with the Steelers it's a good fit. They have good guys over there, and I see them doing things with the versatile running backs they have. I think Jaylen will fit in well with them.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jrutter@tribweb.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.

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